By Liam kelly
MOUNT Juliet is celebrating 21 years since it opened its doors and, appropriately, the cream of PGA professionals in Ireland are in action on the renowned Jack Nicklaus-designed layout.
The PGA — just like the venue for the Irish championship, which doubles as the final event in the Irish Region 2012 Ping Race to Mount Juliet (Order of Merit) — has an honourable history.
Professionals in 1900, when the PGA was founded, and for many decades afterwards, were treated as lesser beings by the gentlemen amateurs who ran golf clubs.
The pro often multi-tasked as greenkeeper and clubhouse steward, in addition to giving lessons to the members.
Now, all is changed, and so much for the better. The tournament professional is king and the club pro is a respected and essential component in developing the game and the industry.
Any modern-day PGA pro has to constantly upgrade his or her skill set and adapt to the challenging circumstances facing golf and business in general.
That’s why the competitors in the Irish championship will relish the chance to focus solely on their golf in an all-too-rare opportunity to compete in this prestigious 72-hole tournament.
The field includes former Ryder Cup star Philip Walton, who won the Irish title four times, and ex-European Tour pro Gary Murphy, now playing out of Laytown and Bettystown.
GUI national coach Neil Manchip won the championship in thrilling fashion in 1999 at The Island, when he beat Darren Clarke to the title.
Other strong contenders will be Barrie Trainor, who won the Order of Merit last year, Challenge Tour player Niall Kearney and multi-Pro-Am winners Damian Mooney and John Kelly.
Kearney brings good form into this week, as he claimed the Ulster championship at The Hilton on 12-under-par, winning by five shots from Mooney, Kelly and Michael McDermott.
David Mortimer (Galway), the 2010 champion, will hope to find the form to challenge for a high placing on the leaderboard.
Experienced Tour pro David Higgins leads the Order of Merit and he will want to round off the campaign in style.